Google Wave: The Microsoft Bob of the New Millennium

Google Wave, the new and highly anticipated workflow/group collaboration mashup web application which is in limited alpha test has left me underwhelmed.Over the weekend I became one of the lucky few to receive a Google Wave invite.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Google Wave, the new and highly anticipated workflow/group collaboration mashup web application which is in limited alpha test has left me underwhelmed.

Over the weekend I became one of the lucky few to receive a Google Wave invite. I was excited, overjoyed, and basked in my new-found elite status among the New Media weberati. For all of about ten minutes.

I see for the most part what Google is trying to do. It's trying to achieve the holy grail of workflow and group collaboration by tying the two paradigms of threaded email discussions and wikis together. Effectively Wave is a hosting site for disposable, single-purpose based Wikis and mashups.

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In a "Wave", you add a whole bunch of folks into a threaded discussion in which they can integrate text, hyperlinks and embedded objects into one singular mashup, using a revision control system that allows you to "play back" the order of changes that occurred to the entire collaboration process. Changes occur in real time, so you can actually watch people add and remove and modify content if the participants are all working on a Wave simultaneously.

Embedded objects in a Wave can include things such as videos and photos grabbed from Google search queries, maps, applets from third parties, as well as autonomous "bots" that can participate in the conversation, such as Wolfram Alpha. For example, if I inserted "%What is the population of Iran%" in-line with some text, and the Wolfram Alpha Bot was added to the Wave as a participant, it would auto-magically return the result in the in-line text. At least, it is supposed to. When we tried it, it didn't. This stuff isn't completely baked yet.

While I can see where this type of collaboration process may have some merit, I REALLY do not want to see this become part of GMail, because that is the natural evolution of what I am seeing, at least with this technology preview. The beauty of GMail is its simplicity, in that there's really no learning curve in using it.

There is indeed a significant learning curve with Wave, however. Wave requires quite a bit of understanding of Wikis, revision control and object embedding and linking to be an effective user, and even having that experience alone doesn't necessarily make Google Wave particularly useful.

I'm not sure it makes sense to integrate these directly into e-mail. Perhaps Waves should be dedicated, specially flagged threads that appear in GMail, so you know that you've been invited into one, but I hope it doesn't end up as the default container format for threaded e-mail conversation in GMail. That would just be God awful.

For the most part I feel the application is totally unintuitive, at least in its current incarnation. "Edit" is not even a default button, you have to find it in a pulldown or by double-clicking on a thread post. With the "Extensions", such as Wolfram Alpha, those currently have to be added to the Waves via URL or via a unique Google Wave identifier number.

Ideally, anything that you can insert as an object, even if it is of 3rd-party origin, should be populated in a catalog of browseable applets/widgets/objects. A centralized "Object Store" if you will. But Wave doesn't have one of these yet and frankly not many Wave objects that are particularly useful even exist.

It also doesn't help that a ton of stuff in Google Wave right now just doesn't work, period. Searches of images and video content yield nothing, or the search just churns along forever or may take minutes to return a result. Not what I expect of a Google product, even in Alpha form.

There are other ways of doing collaboration right now that make a lot more sense than Google Wave. Web Conferences such as NetMeeting, WebEx, Lotus Sametime Unyte and and other Internet-based whiteboarding/desktop sharing technologies are much more mature, as are various implementations of Wiki itself. I like the idea of "Disposable Wikis" though. Maybe someone else will come up with a way to perfect the idea.

So far, I'm not finding a compelling reason to use Wave instead of the other collaboration tools at my disposal, and I'm not seeing this as a major paradigm shift or sea-change application that others may view this to be. Perhaps it will mature quickly by developer adoption into an elegant and useful way of collaborating with peers that will enhance or replace our traditional collaboration technologies, but right now it's just UI hell without a clear purpose or an advantage over what exists today.

Are you too underwhelmed by Google Wave? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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